With the U.S. ramping up drone strikes, and militants attacking NATO supply lines, international attention on Pakistan is largely focused on that country's key role in the fight against terrorism. But recently, concerns have also been rising about the stability of the government and the possibility of regime change or even a military takeover.
Especially since public anger erupted over the government's perceived slow response to this summer's disastrous floods, media headlines and opposition politicians have been predicting that the current regime may be on its way out.
Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary-general of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, says the current government is unraveling. But he says any change of administrations must be peaceful and constitutional.
"I see a slow-motion unraveling of this regime," says Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary-general of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, the country's third largest party.
"They're dying by a thousand cuts," he continues. "The flood disaster, allegations of corruption, monumental incompetence, the fighting with the Supreme Court, the lack of confidence of the international community. So the chickens are coming home to roost."
The government insists it will serve out its five-year term and that Pakistan's democracy is solid enough to weather the challenges. Syed says change before then is inevitable, but it must be peaceful and democratic.
Many Pakistanis are looking ahead to Oct. 13, when the Supreme Court will try to reopen old allegations that President Asif Ali Zardari laundered money in Switzerland. The court has said that if the prime minister refuses to follow the court's orders to move on the case, he could be held in contempt of court.
The showdown between the executive and judiciary is a sign that the courts and media are now muscular enough to hold the government to account. Parliament has also passed important constitutional reforms this year to limit the arbitrary exercise of executive powers. By comparison, Syed says, the executive branch appears anemic.
"You have a decaying state and a dynamic society, hence what you're seeing," he says. "The failure is evident when the state cannot deliver on essential issues, like law and order, counterterrorism, health, education, flood relief, rehabilitation and so forth."
Pakistan's military, meanwhile, has been losing patience with the government's graft and ineptitude. This summer, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani personally grilled the president and prime minister over their shortcomings. The government has tried to keep Kiyani on its side by extending his term of office.
Mohammed Ziauddin, executive editor of the Express Tribune newspaper, says many of Pakistan’s problems today are the result of the military’s undue influence in policymaking.
Mohammed Ziauddin, executive editor of the Express Tribune newspaper, says Pakistan's generals have previously seized power when their jobs were in danger. The military has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 63 years in existence. Ziauddin says Kiyani has no need to seize power because he already enjoys a firm grip on the levers of policymaking.
"Gen. Kiyani has got three years' extension," he notes, "and Afghan policy, the Kashmir policy, the American policy is in his hands, and the civil government has been kept out of that, and the civil government has agreed to do that."
Ziauddin says the military's disproportionate influence on policymaking has led to a host of problems, including the insurgency along the Afghan border. He says Pakistan should have stopped supporting the jihadis when the Soviet Union left Afghanistan.
"The army had the choice to dismantle all those institutions and go ahead with the reconstruction of the country," he says. "They did not. They fed those jihadi groups. They kept on arming them, financing them."
Responding to speculation about a change in government, the State Department recently reaffirmed its support for civilian rule in Pakistan. Likewise, the Kerry-Lugar bill passed last year stipulates that $7.5 billion in U.S. aid can only be given to civilian officials of a civilian government.
But many Pakistanis feel that America's huge influence over policymaking is not helpful to democracy. They often joke that their country is in the grip of the "Three A’s": Allah, the army and America.
Even moderates like Ziauddin are skeptical of U.S. claims to support democracy in Pakistan.
"The Americans are helping us for their own national interests," he points out. "They’re not helping us to promote democracy in this country."
Retired Lt. Gen. and former intelligence chief Hamid Gul criticizes the U.S. for “press ganging” Pakistan into its war in Afghanistan, which he says is not in Pakistan’s interests.
Retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul is a tough critic of the U.S., with whom he once cooperated in resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"Whenever they have wanted, they have pressed us into service," Gul complains, "sometimes imposing dictators on us, sometimes by truncated democracies, democracies that are held captive to their dictate."
Gul says the real threat to Pakistan comes from India, not the Taliban. He says it is not in Pakistan’s interest to fight America's war, which he says it is now losing.
"Will it be victory for Pakistan, or will it be a defeat for Pakistan?" he asks. "For the Pakistani nation, which a very large majority hates America, it would be a victory. But for the Pakistani government, and for the Pakistani policies, it would be a defeat."
Gul may be dissatisfied with the current government, but he too says there's no need for the military to intervene. He says all the military has to do is back the judiciary, which will "cleanse" the government of corruption.